Government Shuts Down After Last-Ditch Talks Crumble

Photographers take a picture of the Ohio Clock shortly after midnight early on Jan. 20, 2018, outside the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

(CN) – The federal government shut down early Saturday morning, halting all but the most essential operations on the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump inauguration.

The shutdown — the fourth government closure in a quarter-century — came after last-minute talks failed and Senate Democrats blocked a four-week budget extension.

Party leaders on both sides were working Saturday to try to avert a lengthy shutdown.

In a statement, the White House said: “Senate Democrats own the Schumer Shutdown,” a reference to the Senate’s Democratic minority leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.

“Tonight, they put politics above our national security, military families, vulnerable children, and our country’s ability to serve all Americans,” the statement said.

“We will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands,” it continued. “This is the behavior of obstructionist losers, not legislators. When Democrats start paying our armed forces and first responders we will reopen negotiations on immigration reform. During this politically manufactured Schumer Shutdown, the President and his Administration will fight for and protect the American people.”

President Donald Trump followed the statement with a series of tweets claiming Democrats wanted to give him “a nice present” to mark the one-year anniversary of his inauguration.

He also said Democrats “could have easily made a deal but decided to play Shutdown politics instead.”

Trump argued that, as a result of the shutdown, American voters should elect more Republicans in November “in order to power through this mess.”

Democrats countered by pointing out the current shutdown is the first to occur with one party controlling the White House and both houses of Congress.

“Every American knows the Republican Party controls the White House, the Senate, the House,” Schumer said shortly after the government shutdown began. “It’s their job to keep the government open … their job to work with us in a way to move things forward. They didn’t reach out to us on the continuing resolution. There was no discussion, no debate, nothing. …. this is no way to conduct the nation’s business. They know it. And we know it.”

With no apparent indications of a breakthrough in the Senate to avoid a government shutdown, the Capitol is illuminated in Washington on Jan. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In the end, only 50 senators voted in favor of the stopgap spending plan, falling well short of the 60 votes the Republicans needed to keep the government open.

A similar spending plan passed the GOP-controlled House on Thursday.

Five conservative state Democrats voted for the spending measure. Five Republicans voted against it, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, who did so on procedural grounds.

The spending measure passed by the House would have extended the funding of government operations through Feb. 16. As an inducement to Democratic members of Congress to vote in favor of it, the bill included a provision to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program, also known as CHIP, for six years. It also eliminated some health care-related taxes.

But Democrats in the Senate wanted more — specifically, an extension to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, which provides employment rights and other protections to qualifying immigrants who would otherwise be at risk of deportation.

President Donald Trump announced his intention to rescind DACA in September, but directed Congress to “fix” the program before it expires for good in March.

Aside from DACA, the Democrats were also seeking increases in domestic spending, a bump in disaster aid for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, and a bolstered response to the opioid epidemic.

The shutdown came just hours after a 90-minute Oval Office negotiating session between Trump and Schumer, reportedly over cheeseburgers.

Schumer sounded hopeful afterward that a deal could be reached.

“We had a long and detailed meeting,” he said after arriving back at the Capitol. “We discussed all of the major outstanding issues. We made some progress, but we still have a good number of disagreements. The discussions will continue.”

So hopeful was Schumer that late Friday night he floated a proposal to fund the government through Tuesday to allow the negotiations to continue. The Republicans rejected that offer and the talks collapsed.

“You can’t reach an agreement and snap your fingers and everything falls into place and you’re ready to go,” McConnell said.

Instead, McConnell proposed a three-week version of the short-term spending measure to give negotiators “a reasonable period” to hash out a long-term deal.

Congressional leaders have scheduled an unusual Saturday session to begin considering the McConnell plan, and the Democrats appear willing to listen.

“There is a path forward. We can reach it quickly, tomorrow,” Schumer said Friday night. “The president and the four leaders should immediately sit down and finish this deal so the entire government can get back to work on Monday.”

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